The present invention relates to a process for the production of biopolymer fields with real-time control for improving the quality of biopolymer arrangements produced for analytical purposes.
Biopolymer fields or biopolymer arrays are nowadays produced by principally two processes. In a procedure which has been practiced hitherto for the transfer of extremely small amounts of biopolymer solutions to a support material, extremely small amounts of biopolymer solutions are applied as small measurements dots to surfaces of specimen slides by means of the ink-jet printing method. However, this process is afflicted with uncertainty in the sample application due to viscosity differences occurring in the sample solutions to be applied and occasional formation of gas bubbles in the ink-jet printer.
Another procedure for the application of biopolymer fields to specimen-slide surfaces comprises applying extremely small amounts of liquid of samples to be analyzed to surfaces of specimen slides by means of a nib. The term ‘nib’ in this connection is taken to mean nibs as can be employed, for example, on fountain pens. For application of biopolymer arrays arranged in regular form, it is necessary that, for liquid transfer, the nib or needle wetted with the liquid sample to be applied makes good liquid contact each time with the surface to be charged, since otherwise the desired amount of sample cannot be transferred in adequate amount or not at all.
Errors which occasionally occur during liquid sample transfer are frequently not noticed until all the sample spots of a biopolymer array or biopolymer field have been arranged fully on the surface of the respective specimen slide. The gaps remaining in the biopolymer array arrangement make evaluation of the biopolymer array by automatic means more difficult. It is not economically acceptable to await complete finishing of an error-containing biopolymer.
To date, checking of the completeness of biopolymer fields produced on the surface of specimen slides has been carried out using video cameras, but these, owing to their physical size, require valuable space in the miniaturized environment of the transfer region. Furthermore, the signals from the video cameras can only be automated with relatively high effort.
In view of the disadvantages afflicting the solution from the prior art, it is an object of the present invention to achieve an improvement in the quality of biopolymer fields to be produced even during their production.
We have found that this object is achieved by a process for observing sample transfer in the production of biopolymer fields on the surface of specimen slides, wherein the surface of the specimen slide comprises a conductive material whose electrical connection to the feed device via the sample material serves as acknowledgement signal.
The advantages of the solution proposed in accordance with the invention are principally that, in the process proposed, liquid contact can be ascertained, after application of a voltage, through electrical current flowing between the feed device and the electrically conductive layer on the slide. Since the liquid within the feed device is electrically conductive due to buffer ions present therein, the biopolymer sample to be analyzed, which has been applied to the conductive coating of the slide, represents a liquid bridge which closes the current circuit between the slide surface provided with conductive material and the feed device. This enables highly reliable detection of application of a biopolymer sample sufficient for analysis to the specimen slide, so that, through a correspondingly generated and amplified acknowledgement signal if liquid contact has not taken place, the command to repeat the filling or transfer operation is given to the computer controlling the feed device, until acknowledgement of the liquid contact takes place or, after a plurality of unsuccessful attempts, a corresponding entry in the error record of a control computer can be effected.
In a further embodiment of the proposed process according to the invention, the monitoring of the liquid contact of sample and surface of the specimen slide takes place in real time.
The acknowledgement signal is particularly advantageously generated from a detected current flow between the feed device and the conductive surface of the specimen slide. The sample liquid is advantageously used here as liquid bridge between the feed device and the specimen slide.
In order to obtain a meaningful acknowledgement signal which can be processed further, the signal emanating from a detected current flow is amplified by a high-resistance amplifier arrangement. A pre-resistance of, for example, 10 megaohms can be installed upstream of the high-resistance amplifier.
The correspondingly amplified acknowledgement signal can be utilized for automatic initiation of a repetition of the transfer operation by corresponding addressing of the feed device if it has been detected that no liquid bridge generating a current flow between the feed device and the surface of the specimen slide has been applied between these.
In accordance with the present invention, a device is furthermore proposed for the detection of the transfer of a sample quantity of a biopolymer from a feed device onto the surface of a specimen slide, where the feed device contains a conductor which effects current flow and generates a signal via the sample liquid with a surface of the specimen slide comprising a conductive material, having a connection.
In comparison with the solution known from the prior art for monitoring the quality of a biopolymer field using video cameras and further processing their signals, the solution according to the invention represents a significantly simpler and more reliable real-time monitoring possibility. The electrical conductor which cooperates with the electrical connection of the specimen slide can advantageously be embedded in the mount of the capillary tube serving as feed device for the sample liquid and can simply be connected to a voltage source together with the connection of the specimen slide.
According to a further refinement of the idea on which the invention is based, the surface of the specimen slide can consist of electrically conductive plastic, while the specimen slide itself can be made of a less expensive material. The surface of the specimen slide can consist of metallic material, for example in an applied thin metal plate.
Finally, it is also conceivable to make the sample slides out of glass or plastic and to render them electrically conductive by application of a conductive material. The conductive coating of the specimen slide made of less expensive material may be an electrically conductive polymer. The electrically conductive coating may furthermore consist of metal or a semiconductor material. An example of a semiconductor material which can be employed is indium-tin oxide, where, for cost reasons, the entire surface of the coating of the specimen slide need not be coated with a conductive material, but instead, in certain applications, a coating of part-areas of the specimen-slide surface with conductive material may be sufficient.
The invention is explained in greater detail below with reference to the drawing.
By contrast, the specimen slide 3 consists of an inexpensive material, for example plastic, metal or glass. An electrical conductor 2 is provided in the mount 13 of the capillary tube 11 and is electrically connected to the sample liquid present in the interior of the capillary tube 11, which liquid leaves the capillary tube 11 at its lower end in the region of the capillary tip 1 in the direction of the surface 14 of the specimen slide 3. The conductor wire 2 is connected to an input of an amplifier 7 and is connected to a voltage source 9 via a pre-resistance 5 of, for example, 10 megaohms. The surface 4 with conductive material 14 is connected via a supply line to a voltage source 9 through a connection 6 positioned against the surface in a resilient manner. The resilient connection 6 is likewise connected to an input of the amplifier, which, in particular, has a high-resistance design, in which an acknowledgement signal 8 is generated. At the voltage tap point 15, the conductor wire 2 is connected to the pre-resistance 5 of the voltage source 9, and the connection 6 positioned against the surface 4 in a resilient manner is connected to the input of the high-resistance amplifier 7.
A voltage of, for example, five volts is applied via a pre-resistance 5 of, for example, 10 megaohms between the specimen slides 3 and the surface 4 accommodated therein, including conductive coating and the liquid in the capillary tube 11. If liquid contact has occurred between the capillary tip 1 and the conductive coating 14 on the surface 4 of the specimen slide 3, the measurement voltage is short-circuited, since the conductor wire 2 and the connection 6, which is in contact with the conductive coating 14, are connected to a voltage source 9. The presence of a liquid bridge 12 between the aperture of the capillary tip 1 and the specimen-slide surface 4 provided with a conductive coating 14 is observed, for example, by means of a high-resistance amplifier 7 and passed on to the controlling computer as an acknowledgement signal 8 therefrom for the liquid contact that has taken place.